In the time it takes to read this, someone in the UK would have had a stroke. Stroke is cruel. It can rob you of your speech, your ability to walk, your memory, your independence and your dignity - all in the blink of an eye. Twice as many women die from stroke than breast cancer and the condition kills more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined.
Despite these alarming statistics, stroke research has been, and remains, significantly underfunded compared with other conditions that have a similar disease burden. A new study by the Stroke Association signals a looming crisis as a result of the under-investment in research. It reveals that for every cancer patient living in the UK, £241 is spent on medical research, compared to just £48 per year for every stroke patient.
Our report, Research Spend in the UK: comparing stroke, cancer coronary heart disease and dementia, also shows that out of a combined research spend of £856 million in 2012 for these four conditions, just 7% (£56 million) was dedicated to stroke research, whereas 64% (£544 million) was devoted to cancer.
The consequences of this woeful disparity in research funding is abundantly clear. While over the past 20 years, the number of people dying from stroke has halved, it still claims over 40,000 lives each year in the UK and is the world's second biggest killer. If funding levels for stroke research remain the same, we will not be ready for the challenges that a growing and ageing population will bring. With the global burden of stroke (disability, illness and premature death) set to double by 2030, we must not, and will not, let stroke get left behind.
Living with the long-term impact of stroke can be devastating, not just for stroke survivors, but also for those who care for them. That's why we must do everything we can to both prevent and treat stroke.
Twenty years ago, our charity made a crucial decision. We decided to make stroke our cause and take the lead in fighting against this terrible disease. We made a commitment to change the world for people affected by stroke by promoting stroke prevention, investing in world-class research and supporting stroke survivors and their families to make the best possible recovery.
As a research charity, with modest resources, the Stroke Association is proud to have funded pioneering research that has helped to save lives and improve stroke rehabilitation. In 2004, for example, the Stroke Association funded Professor Gary Ford and colleagues at the University of Newcastle to study the ability of ambulance paramedics to recognise stroke, using the Face, Arm, Speech, Time (FAST) test. Researchers found that by using the FAST test, patients could receive more rapid treatment as a result of their early diagnosis. Since the ACT FAST campaign started in 2009, there has been a 54% increase in stroke-related emergency calls, with nearly 24,000 more people reaching hospital within three hours of stroke.
Our research also led to the licensing of clot-busting thrombolytic drugs, which restore blood flow to the brain and reduce the amount of permanent brain damage from an ischaemic stroke (caused by a blood clot, preventing blood flow and oxygen to the brain).
Far too many people wrongly believe that stroke could never happen to them. The sad truth is that it can happen to anyone, at any time, in an instant. It was around 9am when Marney Williams began to feel the symptoms of her stroke. A blood clot was blocking the blood supply to her brain causing mental sluggishness and difficulty understanding language. Thanks to the rapid response of her daughter and the emergency services, she got to hospital, had a brain scan and began thrombolysis within an hour and 45 minutes of her stroke. As a result, the severe language problems she was experiencing did not become permanent and within 24 hours, her speech had significantly improved.
For every 1,000 patients treated with thrombolysis, 150 more will now live independently after a stroke. Now imagine what we could achieve if funding for stroke research was given a higher priority and received similar levels of investment to cancer or dementia.
For too long, stroke was considered by many health professionals as a sad but untreatable condition. The major breakthroughs we have consistently achieved through our research, has repeatedly proved them wrong.
We know that stoke can be prevented. We have also shown that, with funding, we can bring tangible, life-changing improvements to stroke care. Prioritising investment into world-class research is the only way we can reduce the condition's devastating impact and ensure people get the best support possible, every step of the way, on their journey back from stroke. Together we can conquer stroke.